Honest Abe and the Mill City

Abraham Lincoln by artist George Peter Alexander Healy, of Boston

At 9 p.m. on April 15, 1865, the angry, distraught mob gathered outside Otis Wright’s Central Street office (in the building now known as Wyman’s Exchange). They were there for blood.

Earlier that day, word raced around the city that Wright, Superintendent of the Lowell Horse Railroad, a horse-driven streetcar operation founded in 1864, had expressed gratification regarding the previous day’s assassination of President Abraham Lincoln at the hands of John Wilkes Booth.

Wright was alleged to have remarked, while in the presence of Daniel Greenleaf, “Who’s fool enough to kill the damned old fool?”

Mayor Josiah Peabody, City Marshall Bickford Lang, and a contingent of Lowell Police officers soon arrived on the scene to quell the rowdy crowd, who were beginning to push their way up the stairs to drag Wright out of the building.

Wyman’s Exchange

The Mayor’s appearance was greeted by cheers from the crowd. He begged them not to meet Wright with violence stating “at a time when all hearts are overflowing with grief our city should be spared any riotous demonstrations,” according to the Lowell Daily Citizen and News.

Peabody soon announced Wright would come down and address the crowd. He did, American flag in hand. Wright denied having made the remarks, but the crowd did not buy what he was selling.

Wright, a Blowellian from New Hampshire, was given 30 minutes to leave the city.

He was ushered back into the building, by his friend Mr. Huse, and slid out a back door to a waiting steed. He set forth back to New Hampshire.

The still-angry Lincoln-loving Lowellians turned their fury on Mr. Huse, prompting Mayor Peabody, John Nesmith, H.H. Wilder and City Marshal Bickford Lang to place a notice in the newspaper, explaining that Huse had not assisted Wright until he was “appealed to by Mr. Wright, also by his sister who was in the office, and not until her knew doing so his course met our approbation.

“We believe his acts in this matter entitle him to commendation, rather than censure, as it was more than probable that the speedy removal of Mr. Wright has left our city without the disgrace of a riot (perhaps bloodshed and the destruction of property) upon its record.”

Abraham Lincoln was not from Lowell, but the people here took a liking to him.

With the upcoming release of the Steven Spielberg film Lincoln, I thought it would be a good time to look at the 16th president’s connections to the MillCity.

***On Saturday September 16, 1848, a young Congressman from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln came to Lowell to stump for Whig presidential candidate General Zachary Taylor at a meeting called by the Chairman of the city’s Whig Central Committee, Linus Child.

U.S. Congressman Abraham Lincoln (Whig-Illinois)

City Hall (then in the building now occupied by Enterprise Bank on Merrimack Street) was packed that night.

According to the September 18, 1848 Lowell Courier, Lincoln “addressed the assembly in a most able speech, going over the whole subject in a masterly and convincing manner, and showing, beyond a peradventure, that it is the first duty of the Whigs to stand united and labor with devotion to secure he defeat of that part, which has already done so much mischief to the country. He was frequently interrupted by bursts of warm applause.”

The question of whether Lincoln spent the night in Lowell remains a mystery. However, the fact that the Whig meeting was at 7:30 p.m. and the last train out of the city was at 6:30 p.m. points to Abe having rested his head here overnight.

*** Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865 caused the postponement of the dedication of the Ladd and Whitney monument, which was scheduled for April 19. It was held on June 17 (Bunker Hill Day), because Gov. John A. Andrew was unable to attend.

Luther Ladd and Addison Whitney, members of the Lowell-based Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Militia Regiment, were killed in Baltimore on April 19, 1861; the first casualties of the Civil War.

The Ladd and Whitney monument

The monument in front of City Hall, where their bodies are buried, cost $4,508.23 when it was built, with the state kicking in $2,000. The city also paid an additional $558.72 for the grading, turfing and fencing of the grounds.

“The structure reflects credit on our state and city and is a just tribute of gratitude to the memory of these youthful martyrs who led the van of those immortal heroes who have died that their country might live,” Mayor Josiah Peabody’s Inaugural Address, 1866.

*** A little known connection between Lincoln and Lowell is Frederick Augustus Aiken.

Aiken, born in Lowell on September 20, 1832, served as the defense attorney for Mary Surratt, the only female arrested as a conspirator in john Wilkes Booth’s plot to assassinate Lincoln.

Surratt owned the four-story boarding house at 604 H St. NW in Washington, D.C. where Booth and his co-conspirators often met.

Mary Surratt

Surratt was found guilty and sentenced to death. The first woman executed by the United States government, Mary Surratt was hanged on July 7, 1865.

Aiken, a colonel in the Union Army during the Civil War, also had a background in journalism. Following the Surratt trial his law practice petered out and he returned to newspapers. In 1868, Aiken became the first city editor of the Washington Post, a position he held until his death 10 years later.

10 thoughts on “Honest Abe and the Mill City

  1. Great story. For some reason I always thought Lincoln was here later than 1848 (mid-1850’s or so)…was this his only visit to Lowell?

  2. Jen – this is fascinating. I am a Lincoln fan , however never knew this story. Second , wasnt aware of a lady convict. Et all – a fascinating read. Kudos.Third , the story you wrote kept me spellbound . Flows like water. Awesome!

  3. Jennifer, Thanks for sharing a very nice compilation and good reminder about Lincoln at his birthday and with Presidents’ Day holiday. You might want to check with Richard Howe for the exact details and name about another amazing Lowell connection to the Lincoln assassination. If I recall correctly, he shared on one of his cemetery walks that the room where Lincoln was taken in boarding house after being shot, was being occupied by a man with Lowell roots.

  4. Pingback: Lincoln & Lowell: The LHP Connection – Lowell Heritage Partnership

  5. Pingback: Happy 210th Birthday to Lowell Visitor Abraham Lincoln! | Return to Room 50

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